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With website active, Pelton continues gun violence initiative

by Evan Sporer / Beacon Staff • January 24, 2013

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Andrew Tiedemann (left), Daniel Tobin, Phillip Glenn, and Amy E. Ansell (right) discuss possibilites for campus events.
Andrew Tiedemann (left), Daniel Tobin, Phillip Glenn, and Amy E. Ansell (right) discuss possibilites for campus events.

As part of President M. Lee Pelton’s initiative to engage Emerson and colleges across the country in conversations on gun violence, the president’s office launched a website dedicated to the topic.

On Tuesday the college notified over 1,700 other college and university presidents across the country of the new website, gunviolence.emerson.edu, and asked them to join Pelton’s endeavor to lead the campuses in discussions. 

“The idea was to ask college presidents to engage their communities in thoughtful conversation around gun violence,” Pelton said, “recognizing that individual presidents and different institutions might have different point of views or perspectives on the issue, as well as the role of their college or university.” 

Vice President of Public Affairs Andrew Tiedemann said it was too early to gauge the overall reception of the website, but said a number of other college presidents, including Tulane University’s Scott Cowen, have reached out to Pelton to show their support. 

“We’ve had almost immediately four or five presidents write to [Pelton] saying, ‘This is great, I want to sign up,’” said Tiedemann. “We imagine there is going to be momentum.”

Planning for the website began a week before classes resumed in January, according to Pelton. A group of senior administrators—including Pelton, Tiedemann, American Council of Education Fellow Lori Beth Way, Director of Web Services Jason Beals, Vice President and Special Assistant to the President Donna Heiland, Vice President for Information Technology William Gilligan, and Assistant Vice President and Director of Media Relations Carole McFall— brainstormed what the site should host, Pelton said. 

“What I wanted to achieve was to create the site as a resource for college and university president so they can post their initiatives,” Pelton said, “so that other college and university presidents can use those initiatives, and perhaps use them on their own campuses, and that there would be an opportunity for the signatories to have private conversations.”

In the wake of the school shooting in Newton, Conn., Pelton said it was necessary to take action, and sent a letter to his presidential colleagues, asking them to use their power to lead meaningful campus discussions on gun control.

The website, which is not yet complete, currently includes the letter Pelton wrote to President Barack Obama; a list of signatories; resources about gun control, mental illness, and initiatives of other campuses; and a private forum for the presidents who pledged. Pelton said members of the site have not yet received instruction on how to access that forum, but will soon. 

Wey, who is spending the 2012-2013 academic year at Emerson as a research fellow, chose Pelton as a mentor, citing his commitment to equality and civic engagement.

“That is the way President Pelton is,” Wey said. “When he sees something that needs the voice of a strong leader, he will fill that need.” 

Pelton also announced four events that will be held on Emerson’s campus. The series, titled Made in America: Our Gun Violence Culture, will begin Feb. 4 with a program called Whose Right Is It Anyway? A press release describes the event as “a moderated gun control and gun advocacy debate,” and says it will be held in the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre.

The event will be moderated by Emily Rooney, an anchor for WGBH, and will include three or four panelists. Emerson has already secured Jack McDevitt, Richard Feldman, and John Rosenthal as panelists.

McDevitt is the Director of the Center of Criminal Justice Policy Research at Northeastern University. Feldman is the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, and formerly the northeast political and legislative director for the National Rifle Association. Rosenthal started Stop Handgun Violence, a nonprofit organization committed to the prevention of gun violence through education, public awareness, and effective law enforcement, according to a description on the website.

Tiedemann said the college is still trying to solicit one more panel member, who can further explain and express the NRA’s point of view. 

“We wanted to make sure that it was going to be a real debate, a real discussion. We didn’t want it to be one-sided,” Pelton said. “What we tried to do is put together a gun advocate, a gun control person, and then somebody who has done a lot of research, and can speak to the data in a meaningful way.” 

According to Pelton, the event will be primarily for Emerson students, but he said he hopes members of other colleges will also attend.

Emerson will host three other events focused around talks on gun control this semester. While the dates have not been set, the programs are listed under the titles, The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not; Who’s to Blame? Media and Electronic Games in Gun Violence; and The Cultural, Social, and Economic Underpinnings of American Violence.

Tiedemann said working alongside Pelton and being a member of the Emerson community through this initiative has been inspiring.

“I think it’s a source of pride for all of us in the administration, and for the community at whole, to have a leader that feels it’s his moral obligation and talk about issues of the day,” Tiedemann said. “I think it makes us all feel very proud and lucky to be working with him.”

Emerson students voiced their support for Pelton’s program.

“I don’t know much about gun control, so I would definitely go,” said Marisa Perkins, a junior visual and media arts major. “It’s good for Emerson to speak up about something that’s been in the news.” 

Pelton said he has received a number of emails and phone calls from alumni and parents of current and former students, who have all commended him on his efforts. He also said he has been in contact with Laura Bittman, a current Emerson student who attended Sandy Hook Elementary, where the Newtown tragedy took place.  

“My personal view is that...” Pelton began, before beginning to cry, “...someone has to speak up for those 20 kids who died. Someone has to make sure that they didn’t die in vein. That’s the personal piece for me.”

Jackie Tempera, Beacon Staff, contributed reporting.